Let’s Talk Shop: Sparkle of Books and Trinkets

Heidi Stepanek, Skye Stepanek and Peter Dixon of Spark.

Let’s Talk Shop: Sparkle of Books and Trinkets

Shop Talk is an occasional feature where young independent booksellers take Q&Q to their stores and share their reasons for opening and what business has been like so far.

Spark Books and Curiosities
76 Foster Street
Perth, Ont.

Heidi Stepanek and Peter Dixon had always planned to open a bookstore when they retired.

But they took the plunge sooner than expected when the owners of one of three existing independent bookstores in Perth, Ontario, decided to retire.

Stepanek and Dixon have been operating Spark Books and Curiosities for just over a year; they opened the store on October 1, 2021, taking over space from The Bookworm, a second-hand bookstore that had operated in the same building since 1987.

The couple run the store with the help of their 14-year-old Skye Stepanek, store manager Javier Mullally and two part-timers. The store has two large rooms on the ground floor of a downtown heritage building: one is filled with new books and trinkets, and the other with used books, presided over by the sign outside original Bookworm hanging on the wall.

“Owners of theater companies for decades [the Perth Academy of Musical Theatre / Orion Theatre Company], our goal has been to not only operate a store, but to create an experience for our community,” Stepanek and Dixon state. “We want people to be inspired from the moment they walk through the door – by the eclectic and exciting selection, great conversation with fellow book lovers, the inclusivity of our safe space, and a visual cornucopia with so much to see and do.”

Stepanek and Dixon recently answered some questions for Q&Q over Spark’s first year of business.

Why open Spark books & curios in 2021?

It’s always been our retirement plan to open a bookstore – we’re avid bibliophiles, and our home resembles our local library, with bookshelves covering every available surface. We live in the small, beautiful city of Perth, population 6,000, where three thriving bookshops already existed, so opening a fourth didn’t make much sense. But when the owners of The Bookworm retired and hoped to sell to other book lovers who would tend the shop, we knew it was the right time – even though it was in the middle of the pandemic!

How has the community responded to the store?

We rebranded the store, which sold only used books for 35 years, to include new books and unique games, toys and models. While we’re preserving the history and legacy of The Bookworm, we’ve added our own twist. The community has been incredibly supportive and responsive, and we are quickly becoming a social hub.

How do you reach potential readers?

In a small community, news travels fast. We love the intimacy and friendliness of our beautiful little town. Our vibrant storefronts get noticed and conversations about newcomers and old favorites pass through the vine like wildfire. We also have an active presence on Facebook and Instagram and advertise in local newspapers. Our city hosts many different festivals including the Festival of the Maples, Night Markets, Festival of Good Cheer, Stewart Park Music Festival and many more. We are also still active there.

What are your goals for the bookstore? Does the store have a particular orientation?

As our family is an active member of the LGBTQ+ community, we are quickly becoming known as a gay-focused store, with many options in fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, and children’s/YA books, at the both in our large dedicated queer section, as well as integrated throughout the store. Peter works with Indigenous communities in community development in his other job, and Indigenous (particularly Canadian) artwork is also a big focus of our store.

Our goal is to organize the store to include as many unique works as possible, given our space restrictions, in various genres so that everyone has something new and exciting to find in their “treasure hunt”. of individual books. Our child, Skye, is an avid reader and has been instrumental in the store’s book choices. She has posted numerous index card reviews on various books in the store, recommending their favorites.

We also plan for the store to become a community hub for inspiration, social gathering and events – we’ve already helped produce a Queer Writer’s Fest, which will become an annual event, and plan to host several other exciting things, including including a Living Art festival, Learn-to-Clown days and an annual literary festival. We have big plans!

What was most surprising or unexpected about opening a bookstore or your first few months in business?

How absolutely excited and supportive our community has been. We are so grateful for the support Perth has shown us, and their absolute willingness to ‘buy local’ and experiment with exciting genres and authors as we bring our eclectic collection to the store. We were so happy to see that despite the appearance of screens in our world, the physical, tangible book is still a mainstay and is here to stay.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

About Herbert L. Leonard

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